Bridging the Gap – Bringing Cutting Edge Pharma and Healthcare Delivery Closer Together

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Samir Khan

Sue Rees In conversation with Samir Khan

Dr Samir Khan is a health innovation strategist and global market access professional with more than ten years of experience within and beyond the Life Sciences and Healthcare sectors.

Samir is the founder of Lighthouse Innovations Ltd – an Oxford-based innovation and access strategy group advising several cutting-edge start-ups and entrepreneurs about the NHS-industry ecosystem of the UK.

Samir is also Head of Access and Commercialisation at, and a review panellist for the NHSX’s AI Award 2020 (£250Mn). He has advised top 10 FTSE Global Life Sciences and Healthcare corporate leaders, and more than 50 growing start-ups on international market access, payer value and price discovery and risk-sharing strategies.

His clinical experiences span infections, oncology, rare diseases, mental health, and chronic inflammatory indications. Samir is also a mentor and panellist for start-up accelerators, including KQ Labs, TheHill Market Access Accelerator, Cancer Tech Accelerator, Triple Chasm Company and P4 Precision Medicine.

Samir received the Bill and Melinda Gates Fellowship Award to complete his PhD in Pharmacology at Cambridge University. Samir has co-authored papers in Nature and is a co-inventor of a vaccine for Hepatitis E in India and drug targets in neurological and cardiovascular diseases in the UK.

Sue Rees: Samir, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’m really fascinated by how you came to life sciences and your interest in innovation and commercialisation.

Samir Khan: Thanks Sue, it’s great to chat. Well, my journey started in vaccinology back in India. I had a very fascinating and inspirational leader, Dr Shahid Jameel who really nourished my scientific development. We worked together to develop and patent a Hepatitis E vaccine in only 2 years, which was remarkable. It was this that led me to the Bill and Melinda Gates Fellowship Award to complete my PhD in Pharmacology at Cambridge University.

Cambridge was very much a transition from academic life sciences into commercial life sciences. I was involved in drug discovery work with Heptares Therapeutics, one of the leading novel small molecule research businesses, and it was this experience that exposed me to the “business” of life sciences for the first time.

Now I have to be honest and say that at Cambridge I threw myself wholeheartedly into all the opportunities that I could – I was president of my college, for example, and got involved with lots of other areas – and probably at the expense of my work in the lab. It made me realise that I had skills that were much wider than just putting on the white lab coat and knuckling down to the “hard science”.

So I decided to move into commercial consulting. I really enjoyed helping people to solve problems and the commercialisation of life sciences was fascinating to me. I was looking for my own niche to specialise in, and I gravitated towards market access strategies, pricing and reimbursement.

That proved to be a good choice and over 10 years that career really took off. I found myself working with global pharma, world biotech leaders, and vaccine makers on solving the problems of access and launch strategies across minor and major healthcare markets.

It was this that led me to work with the UK’s NHS ecosystem. This proved to be a fascinating turning point as it was my first “deep dive” exposure to the inner workings of a very mature system that’s one of the exemplars of publicly-funded healthcare. I got exposure to med-tech and lots of digital technologies, but the interesting aspect to me was the interface of innovation and commercialisation between life sciences and healthcare. It quickly became apparent to me that this wasn’t an area that was getting much attention.

I really wanted the flexibility to explore this area more freely and so I left the NHS role and started my company Lighthouse Innovations to really focus on innovation, ideation, and commercialisation. And that was 2 weeks before the first lockdown was announced in the UK in 2020!

SR: Well, that was a testing time for you then!

SK: Yes! The timing could have been better. But actually, things have gone very well. I think having lots of experience in life sciences, clinical evidence management, and commercialisation experience from all kinds of enterprises from startups to big pharma, as well as knowledge of healthcare delivery and the NHS, means that I could offer real value to a wide range of clients.

SR: Did you have a scientific family? Was working in life sciences or healthcare something you always wanted to do, even from an early age?

SK: Well, my parents were not scientists they were historians! But I did always want to get involved in that sector, yes. My extended family is full of doctors and healthcare professionals so that was probably an influence, but for as long as I can remember it was science that really interested me.

SR: Lighthouse Innovations is your first business. Why did you decide to launch when you did?

SK: I had a lot of different reasons for setting up a business. The first was a passion for solving problems, and I felt that the organised institutional space was stifling that. Being boxed into job titles, roles and salaries didn’t let me do everything that I wanted to.

Secondly, innovation and commercialisation is quite a nebulous space – you can have your own interpretation. I really wanted to get my own theories and practical experiences out there, and I had to do that through my own organisation.

Third, the biggest failing I could see in the sector was the high price you have to pay on the high street vendors for “knowledge”, leaving behind a lot of entrepreneurs and businesses out of access and out of pocket.

SR: That’s interesting, can you elaborate a bit more?

SK: I have worked in public and private commercial consulting, not only in delivery but also on the selling side. Quite often the feedback has been that large proportions of the advice being given are very similar, sometimes even “cut and paste”, and the prices being charged doesn’t seem to reflect a really tailored and nuanced approach that clients perhaps felt they were going to get. There are some very large consultancy firms out there with very expensive offices to maintain – I felt I could give much better value for money in terms of timely, affordable and meaningful insights.

SR: You decided to do this just as the global pandemic was taking hold. Did you worry about that, about it being the wrong time?

SK: No, not really. I had done my homework. My role in the NHS was quite entrepreneurial – an entrepreneurial residence if you like, so I was in the right frame of mind. I had built up a good network, I had lots of feedback about what people were looking for, and I had confidence that my knowledge and insights were really valuable.

If I had been in the situation where I had needed to travel overseas to find clients, then that might have been a different matter, but I felt really confident in what I could offer and that I could deliver that remotely and still be highly effective.

SR: Was starting your own business something you had always wanted to do?

SK: Actually, no. I came to it really through experiencing the limitations of past jobs. The more I experienced the lack of flexibility to do things the way I wanted to, the more it confirmed that I need to set up my own business and do things the right way.

SR: Even more impressively, you’ve started and grown your consultancy business while also keeping busy with other opportunities.

SK: I currently have 3 areas that I’m working on. As you say, the first is my consulting business, and it’s great to work with some of the largest companies in the sector on major projects alongside advising very exciting early-stage businesses.

I’m also Head of Access and Commercialisation at, an artificial intelligence healthcare startup that’s building its fantastic platform to use AI and machine learning to improve the analysis of medical and clinical data. For example, we’ve recently seen some fantastic results teaching the AI to learn how to read scans and improve the diagnosis of prostate cancers from 57% sensitivity with human interpretation to 94%.

A third role is as a mentor with several accelerator programmes around the country where I advise healthcare and life science start-ups. I really enjoy this aspect of being able to give back and help the next generation of founders.

SR: What would be your top pieces of advice to a new business founder?

SK: The key is to pick the problem you want to solve. That problem should occupy your mind 90% of the time – or haunt you if you don’t! The problem must be a genuine human need and be something you can empathise with. It needs to be close to your heart.

The next key is focus. Don’t be distracted by too many things and work to keep not only your own focus sharp but that of your team.

Be wise with your decision-making. By that, I mean make sure you have understood all the possible outcomes that making a decision might entail before you make it. Try not to make major decisions too rapidly.

SR: Regarding your business, does anything keep you up at night at the moment? What are you worried about?

SK: I think that I do worry about my attraction to variety in my work and is that maximising my potential? Is it sustainable? Like everyone, I have my own insecurities but I suspect part of that concern is actually a FOMO i.e. “what might I be missing out on”!

SR: Looking back at your journey so far, is there any advice you would give your younger self? Any changes you would make?

SK: One would be to advise the younger me to say no to more things! Be very selective and choosy about what you take on, especially in the early stages of your career.

SR: And what do you hope the future for Lighthouse will be?

SK: I want to sustain what has been successful. And I believe that’s down to the personalities and strengths of my team, so supporting and developing them will be vital. On top of that, my personal focus is always going to be on the gulf between life science and healthcare and how I can help businesses bridge that gap. For Lighthouse to continue to be recognised as a leader in this area would be my goal.

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